Sunday, started with the news that Sprinter Sacre would be retired Nicky Henderson was in tears as he announced the retirement of Sprinter Sacre. Scans have revealed that one of greatest two-mile chasers in the history of the sport has a minor issue with his near fore. A younger animal would have been fine to come back after a spell of recuperation but with the dual champion rising 11 years of age, Henderson and owner Caroline Mould had no hesitation in calling time on a mesmerising career which has taken him and jump fans on a magical journey. There is always initial sadness at the thought of a crowd favourite retiring, however in this case I think this is a great decision putting Sprinter Sacre first. Sprinter Sacre as a horse was blessed in many ways, blessed with incredible ability, blessed with tremendous equine looks. Sprinter Sacre was also blessed with the people who cared for and owned him. The whole team at Nicky Henderson's yard as well as his owners the Moulds looked after Sprinter Sacre better then anybody could have. Sprinter Sacre became public property as all great horses do that brings incredible pressure and scrutiny. Sprinter Sacre was universally adored by race fans across these islands. I would go as far to say if a marketing company had to produce a poster of what a thoroughbred racehorse should look like , they would model it on Sprinter Sacre's appearance.
Sprinter Sacre first came on my radar in a bumper at Ayr on Scottish Grand National day April 2010. I was on a stag weekend in Kilkenny , I had been having one of those up and down days. I decided to put my faith in Sprinter Sacre at 6/4 . I was not disappointed Sprinter Sacre won hard held on the bridle by 4 lengths. I thought to myself that is a smart bumper horse little did I know. Sprinter Sacre's novice hurdle campaign was very good culminating in a third place finish in the Supreme which went to Al Ferof with a certain Cue Card in fourth. It was widely accepted that seasons was a vintage supreme. It always appeared Sprinter Sacre was marking time until going over fences such was his presence an physique. Sprinter Sacre went over fences in late 2011. The first notable scalp was a 16 length demolition of Peddlers Cross at Kempton over Christmas, that made everyone take notice.
I will now take you through the seven moments that shaped Sprinter Sacre's racing legacy.
Betfair Super Saturday Chase, Newbury 2012
There was bad weather which meant Sprinter Sacre won a rescheduled Game Spirit at Newbury on Friday 17th of February. French Opera may have been only six lengths back, but when clock watchers looked at what was a record time it was a special performance as Barry Geraghty admitted his partner was barely out of second gear. It was on to the Arkle to be the hottest of favourites.
Arkle Trophy, Cheltenham, 2012
As soon as Sprinter Sacre had crossed the line at Newbury bookmakers went as short as Even money about him winning the Arkle Trophy. Sprinter Sacre was sent off at 8-11 for what was the smallest field in the history of the race with just 6 runners. The field contained Cue Card who got within 7 lengths, 22 lengths back to Menorah in third and a further 3 lengths back to al Ferof in fourth. This was a remarkable effort, Cheltenham went bonkers for Sprinter Sacre.
Queen Mother Champion Chase, 2013
Sprinter Sacre turned up for his first Champion Chase as the 1-4 favourite – the shortest priced Festival favourite since Arkle in the 1966 Gold Cup. Sprinter Sacre put in a commanding performance dispatching the brilliant former Arkle and Champion Chase winner Sizing Europe by 19 lengths. The memory of that day that stands out was the way Sprinter Sacre took on Sizing Europe four fences out and sauntered away. I thought I would never see a better Champion Chase effort then Master Minded in 2008 , however sprinter Sacres effort here was better in my view. It looked as if the stage was set for Sprinter Sacre to win at least four Champion chases on the spin.
Aintree and Punchestown 2013
Sprinter Sacre went to Aintree for the 2 mile 4 furlong Melling Chase Cue Card was beaten by 4 and a half lengths. Sprinter Sacre went to Punchestown winning the two mile champion chase by 5 lengths from Sizing Europe. The achievment at winning at the three major festivals at the top level is often overlooked when looking at Sprinter Sacre. This was an incredible achievment. Sprinter Sacre ended the season rated a staggering 192.
Desert Orchid Chase, Kempton, 2013
A list of Sprinter Sacre’s best races would not be complete without the 2013 Desert Orchid. His resurgent year last season means nothing without him reaching his lowest point. Sprinter Sacre had not raced since Punchestown when he turned up at Kempton. Sent off the 2-9 favourite, Sprinter Sacre was held up in last place by Barry Geraghty, who moved him up behind the leaders before the fifth fence. From there, Sprinter Sacre started to lose ground and was pulled up for the first time in his career. He was later found to have suffered an irregular heartbeat. Sprinter Sacre would spend two and a half years in the wilderness wrote off by many including myself. I actually thought during this period Nicky Henderson was losing his mind to be frank. Thankfully connections persevered.
Shloer Chase, Cheltenham, 2015:
Sprinter Sacre had not won for two and a half years when he returned to Prestury Park for the Shloer Chase. His absence from the top winners enclosure meant that Sprinter Sacre was receiving weight, as much as 10lbs from Mr Mole, and was a steady 15-8 favourite at the off. It was not immediately apparent what Sprinter Sacre would turn up.Tanking along on the bit four out, the Cheltenham crowd knew what was coming by then and Sprinter Sacre thumped Somersby by 14 lengths. Sprinter Sacre was back in the winners enclosure.
Queen Mother Champion Chase, Cheltenham 2016
I did a podcast before the festival with my regular co host Mike Sylver, who correctly pressed me on Sprinter Sacre's chances when I said "its not Disneyland and I could not see Sprinter Sacre winning, Sprinter Sacre is not the same horse as he was in 2013" . I think everybody loves a comeback story and Sprinter Sacre did not disappoint his legion of fans. The morning of the race the locals seemed confident, I was still skeptical I must admit. Despite Sprinter Sacre's affection in the hearts of National Hunt fans Sprinter Sacre was still 5-1 to Un De Sceaux’s 4-6 for the two-mile crown. Sprinter Sacre made a mistake at the third last, Sprinter soon gathered himself unleashing that long ground devouring stride at the turn for home. Sprinter Sacre powered up the hill to beat Un De Sceaux by three and a half lengths. The crowd went mad on the Cheltenham lawn, everyone united regardless of financial investment willing Sprinter Sacre on to victory it was incredible.
My abiding memory of that moment is standing on the Chreltenham lawn with one of my life long friends Ronan O'Reilly who was on his first visit to Cheltenham. There were two women standing beside us in there sixties I reckon, crying like children after Sprinter Sacre won. It was wonderful to see, as punters we become hard and cynical this was above all that, Ronan turned to me and said " I think I get Cheltenham now, that was very special" Ronan had backed Un De Sceaux that sums it up . I headed for the parade ring having backed Un De Sceaux myself standing up on the second tier. I saw the whole reception and acclamation unfold. I took a few photos for a friend who was living in America, he is without a doubt Sprinter Sacre's biggest fan who never lost the faith. Well done Ger Bond. I will never forget those moments after the race with Sprinter Sacre it reminded me why as a nine year old I fell in love with this wonderful sport. I would say from my own viewpoint that Sprinter Sacre was great twice. Sprinter Sacre had a great career until 2013 then two and a half years in the wilderness. The comeback in 2015 /2016 season confirms his true greatness. The role of a horse like Sprinter Sacre in attracting new fans to racing should never be underestimated. These horses increase crowds , they bring racing to the mainstream. The emotional bond between race fans and a horse like Sprinter Sacre should not be be dismissed. Sprinter Sacre's supporters were incredibly loyal, they loved him. I think Nicky Henderson and the Mould's appreciated that fact, it becomes part of the Sprinter Sacre story. Sprinter Sacre had his deserved Disneyland ending .Go well Sprinter Sacre our sport owes you much.